Thursday, October 3, 2019

Book Review: "The Unwomanly Face of War" by Svetlana Alexievich

Once again, this is one of those books where you read it knowing that it's going to be hard and stomach churning but you know it's going to be an important read so you read it anyway.

This author interviewed hundreds of Russian women who served in many different capacities during World War II. They were doctors, nurses, snipers, antitank artillery, pilots, infantry, laundresses, cooks, and more and more.  So many of the stories have similar heartbreaking threads ("we were so excited for the war, we begged and begged to be sent to the front", "when I came back it had been four years since I had worn a dress, I had to learn to walk in them again", "if a man came back from the war without a limb, or having suffered a terrible injury he was a hero. If it happened to a woman she was shamed", "I haven't talked about this to anyone"). The experiences that these women shared blew me away. Some of these women were so young (not actually women, technically) that they got their periods for the first time while serving. Some had no idea what was happening and on at least a few occasions the male doctors that they worked with had to explain that they hadn't actually gotten injured. (No one should become a sniper before they get their periods. For so many reasons.)

Here are a couple of quotes that stuck with me:

From a surgeon: "We stood at the operating table around the clock. You stand there, and your arms drop by themselves. My war has three smells: blood, chloroform and iodine."

"When the war ended I had three wishes: first - to ride on a bus instead of crawling on my stomach; second - to buy and eat a whole loaf of white bread; and third - to sleep in white sheets and have them make crinkly noises"

The author talking about conducting interviews with these women - 

"I listen when they speak...I listen when they are silent...Both words and silence are text for me".

"Several times women sent back my transcribed text with a posscript: "No need for small details...Write about our great Victory..." But "small details" are what is most important for me, the warmth and vividness of life: a lock left on the forehead once the braid has been cut; the hot kettles of kasha and soup, which no one eats, because out of a hundered persons only 7 come back from the battle; or how after the war they could not go to the market and look at the rows of red meat...or even at red cloth..."Ah, my good girl, forty years have already gone by, but you won't find anything red in my house. Ever since the way I've hated the color red".

This should be required reading for everyone. Everywhere. Every college history class. Assigned for anyone on the internet who talks shit about women and feminism and equality. For every stupid fucking teenage boy who makes a joke to a girl about belonging in a kitchen.

It was a privilege to read these women's amazing stories.


Friday, September 20, 2019

What I've been reading recently!

We're only going to talk about the books that I've enjoyed, because that's more fun.

"Shock Value: How A Few Eccentric Outsiders Gave Us Nightmares, Conquered Hollywood, and Invented Modern Horror"
by Jason Zinoman


This book was way better than the schlocky cover suggests. John Carpenter, Tobe Hooper and more of the directors that made modern horror what it was.  For a girl who hates scary movies I keep reading books about them and watching them. It's confusing!

"The Wasteland: The Great War and the Origins of Modern Horror" by W. Scott Poole

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I adored this book (except for the one part where the author starts talking shit about C.S. Lewis for like, one sentence out of nowhere). The horrors of WWI effected books and the arts in a very real, very long term way and this book hits on all of it. So interesting!

"A Russian Journal" by John Steinbeck and photos by Robert Capa


I actually got this book as a Christmas present for a dear friend that I talk Steinbeck AND Russia with, I honestly didn't know that this book existed and I stumbled across it. Once he finished reading it (which is kind of a proud moment for me, because he's not a big reader) I borrowed it from him so I could read it. It was funny and sad and enlightening and now I need to read a Robert Capa biography because he sounds like he was quite and a character.

"The Power" by Naomi Alderman

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This book messed me up in a big way. I told everyone I know about it. Especially the women in my life who are big readers. It was vindicating and terrifying and made me cackle and made me sigh. No pun intended, an incredibly powerful book.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

A Hobbit Day - Inklings Week 2019

Even though the hobbits drive me a little crazy in the works of Tolkien (everyone just keep your hands to yourself! Don't start a fire when you're trying to be sneaky! Stop drinking too much and telling people things, THE RING'S DISAPPEARING ACT IS NOT A TRICK YOU SHOW PEOPLE AT THE PUB).

Good gravy, no joke Elf Lord.

However, life in the Shire sounds preeeetttty good. The hobbits and I are alike in a lot of ways, just wanting the finer things like: eating, drinking good beer, and hanging out with friends until the wee hours.  

Which got me thinking: "Man, with all the eating and drinking and friend time, how do you get anything else done?"  If it was me it would be a lot of sticky notes, reminders in my phone, and an alarm or two. But honestly, something tells me that the hobbits don't live and die by their bullet journals and efficiency apps - but if they did I feel like it would like this.

6:45am : Slap the alarm off of the nightstand and wander into the kitchen scratching and belching. Almost slept through breakfast. That was a close one.

7:00am: Breakfast - chow down on leftovers from last night's supper. Ugggghhh it's going to be a busy one, should probably get a move on it. Wander out to the garden to pull some weeds and do some gathering of whatever looks ripe and delicious. But gosh, doesn't that sun feel great on your hairy hobbit toes and your (somehow) hairless face? Maybe we just stretch out on the grass just for a quick nap..........snoooooooree....

8:30am: Wake with a start as a caterpillar sneaks across your forehead. By Gandalf's beard, did you almost sleep through another meal? We need to get our priorities straight...and maybe plant some Valerian Root or something. Wander into the house with your hastily gathered veggies and throw them in a basket. You've got to trade those later on in this incredibly busy day but since it's right around 9:00am you better get on with Second Breakfast because you're not as young as you used to be and you have to keep that stamina up.

Yeah, what about it?

10:00am:  After eating Second Breakfast over the sink because you realize you haven't washed dishes in a few days you decide you can probably put some in the sink to soak (look at you, adulting so hard) and will wash them later. Right now you have to see your distant cousin who lives  at the other side of Bag's End about making a trade for your home grown goodness in exchange for HIS home brewed goodness. It's kind of a hike so you should probably get to getting.

11:15am: Um, okay, how did that walk take longer since the last time you walked it? And now you're hot and sweaty and cranky and your carrots look droopy and Luckily your cousin has a chair in the shade waiting for you to sample some of his fine ale and have a little snicker snack for Elevensies. Even if it's closer to like ElevensiesTwenty when you're done. After several samples and a snack you know you should talk business but that breeze sure feels nice and you already here your cousin's thunderous snores and decide, yeah, let's take a nap and wheel and deal when we are firing on all cylinders. You eventually get shaken awake for an early lunch, and then after some hard negotiating find yourself tottering home with a small cask of ale underneath each arm. Which is good news because you're having a couple of people over for dinner that night - it's not going to be an all night bender but you have a reputation to uphold and you don't want to run out of ale.

3:00pm: You are a beast! Those dishes in the sink are cleaned, you swept, you made sure there was clean ash trays for everyone's pipe ash, the casks are chilling like villains in the root cellar, you have stew simmering in the fireplace, your crudite platters are on point and you have never felt more entitled to a nice long tea.

5:59pm: Hobbits never on time unless there is free booze and food involved. #FACT #Dont@me. Dinner is off and running!

Things get......fuzzy after're assuming there was supper at about 9:00pm, and it's not just because literally every dish in your cozy kitchen is dirty AGAIN, it's also because there is no food left in your house. Dinner must have somehow turned into that all night bender it wasn't supposed to because not only are those casks empty they are dry as the eyes of Sauron. You find some sad looking radishes under an over turned bucket and decide that will serve for breakfast tomorrow, because what would you actually cook that early. As you swerve to your cozy hobbit bed you think....


Monday, July 23, 2018

All Lady July - "The Immortalists" by Chloe Benjamin

This book started super slow for me and it took me a little while to get into the writing style but I'm glad I stuck it out. 

The four Gold children live in New York City in the late 70s, and one day the sneak out to see a mysterious woman who apparently has astounding accuracy when it comes to the date that you will die. They each are told a date. They don't share their days with each other and then no one really talks about it for at least ten years. It seems like one of those kind of throw away moments in your childhood that happen and that you don't really think about again, but even if they are consciousness of it the date that the woman tells them informs their whole life.

There is Simon who finds himself in San Fransisco, Klara who dreams of being a magician and performer - taking after a never talked about kind of disgraced relative, Daniel seems to have his shit the most together (SEEMS) as a military doctor and Varya throws herself into science that studies how long humans can live.

They each have their own chapter, but even though it's their chapter you get little bits of their siblings stories told as well. Even though their stories are all very different there are common themes in all of them - the looming presence of their parents, responsibilities to each other, trying to figure out who and what they are - and the umbrella over everything the date that the woman in that apartment told them.

There were a lot of references to Wisconsin in the last chapter and I flipped to the back of the book jacket and it turns out that the author and I only live an hour and a handful of minutes away from each other. Always good to see a local girl make good!

As I said before, it was a slow start with this book for me. But I think that the format of the chopped of chapters mostly works. And I think that each of the siblings were intriguing in very different ways. (Except for Simon, he kind of has the saddest story but he also seems like the most selfish so....I don't know. I'm conflicted about Simon.) It was also a faster read, it moved at a pretty steady clip and the cover is even pretty and simple too!


Monday, July 16, 2018

All Lady July - "The Butterfly Garden" by Dot Hutchison

This book had been on my TBR for awhile, but my local libraries didn't have it. Until suddenly it appeared one day on the large print...but whatever it is fine. I felt like a super speedy reader flipping those pages so fast.

We are brought into the story technically at the end. A young girl is sitting in a police station interrogation room telling what seems to be an improbable story -  a rich, respected man has a harem of kidnapped girls (literally girls, they run young) in a beautiful garden on his property. As she describes their lives to the detectives they get more baffled. Can they trust this girl? She's not very forthcoming about her life before hand. She won't even tell them her name. (The kidnapper renamed them all, because of course). The women are basically kept as pets by this man and his sadistic, terrifying oldest son. But is there any hope for their escape?

What drew me to this book was the interesting premise. There were a lot of interesting details and the descriptions were good. I always get a little nervous when there are huge casts of characters in a book (especially if they share a lot of common traits, like I don't know, are all captive young women) but the writing made it as such that it was easy enough to keep most of them straight. I thought that the descriptions of the characters were good as well - they all seemed like real people, even though they were victims of this crime they all had flaws and realistic personalities. It's not like they were saints because this bad thing happened to them.

 What kind of was disappointing to me about this book was the end. I felt like we were chugging along, feeling pretty good about it and then in like, the last 12-15 pages they try to throw in one last twist. It feels pretty forced and honestly I'm still a little bit confused about it. So I'm just going to pretend it didn't happen, that's normal right? There's also a pseudo love story that sometimes makes sense and then sometimes just feels real ick. Apparently this book is part of a series but it follows the police detectives instead of the girls. I feel like that's a little lame, so I don't think I'll pursue the rest of them.


Thursday, July 12, 2018

All Lady Book Review - "Poseidon's Steed: The Story of Seahorses, From Myth to Reality" by Helen Scales, PhD

Is there a more perfect book for All Lady July then a nonfiction written by a female scientist about an animal that DOESN'T give birth to their young? This one ticked all the boxes I didn't even know I needed for ALJ.

I have had more conversations about seahorse mating rituals in the past month then I probably will in my whole life. 

Here are some of my favorite things that I learned in this book:

- Seahorses are notoriously hard to categorize because so many of them can change how they look at will. Like, people will think they discover a new species and then they realize "Nope, he's the same as this guy over there but this guy just made himself green. Not a new species!" So that can be incredibly frustrating to the people who study them!

- There's a region in your brain called your hippocampus (it's important for memory!) that is seahorse shaped. In Greek, hippos means horse and kampos means sea monster. You have a sea monster in your brain, don't be alarmed!

-Seahorses actually make a fair amount of noises and most of them are made by rubbing the back of the skull on a little protrusion on their neck. Scientists literally just figured this out using very high speed cameras.

- Seahorses are used in all kinds of ancient health/healing recipes. Even a natural remedy to perk up a man's lacking libido. Apparently.

-Want to see a male seahorse give birth? I gotchu, fam.

I really liked this book. I learned a lot. It was a fast read. It sparked a lot of interesting conversations.


Monday, July 9, 2018

All Lady July - Shop til you drop!

Want to spend some cash on some great items that celebrate female writers/books/characters? I got you. Click on the picture to get to where you can purchase!

Jane Eyre